The Ornish Diet is a popular diet plan that promises to help reverse chronic disease and enhance health.
It involves making comprehensive lifestyle changes and following a low-fat, plant-based diet filled with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes.
However, it also restricts several healthy food groups and may increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies without proper planning.
This article reviews the Ornish Diet, including whether it improves health and aids weight loss.
How our ratings workX
We considered six important standards and assigned a rating to each, with 1 being the lowest rating and 5 being the highest. The Overall Rating for each diet is an average of these ratings.
Weight Change: This rating considers how fast the diet will make you lose or gain weight, whether the weight change can be sustained for 3 months or longer, and whether the diet is a crash diet. A crash diet is a very low-calorie, restrictive diet that comes with lots of health risks. Crash dieting can cause muscle loss, a slowed metabolism, nutritional deficiencies, dizziness, and more. They’re not safe or healthy.
Healthy Eating Habits: This rating considers whether the diet limits entire food groups, and whether it disrupts your daily life with complex, specific requirements on what to eat or how to track your food. It also considers whether the diet focuses on long-term lifestyle changes and encourages habits like eating more whole foods, cooking at home, eating without distractions, etc.
Nutrition Quality: This rating considers whether the diet is based on whole foods rather than processed ones. It also considers whether the diet will cause nutrient deficiencies or a calorie deficiency if you do it for longer than 2 to 3 months. Though you can add vitamin and mineral supplements to any diet, it’s best to focus on getting what you need through a balanced diet.
Whole-Body Health: This rating considers whether the diet sets unrealistic goals, makes exaggerated claims, and promotes an unhealthy relationship with food or appearance. It also considers whether the diet promotes exercise and focuses on overall health rather than just weight. While you may have a weight-related goal you hope to achieve through dieting, it’s important to nourish your body and make sure you’re staying healthy regardless of how you choose to eat.
Sustainability: This rating considers how easy the diet is to follow, whether you can get support for it, and if it can be maintained for 6 to 12 months or longer. It also takes cost into consideration, since some diets require buying premade foods or paying membership fees. Diets that are sustainable are more likely to be healthy in the long term. Yo-yo dieting can contribute to health issues.
Evidence-Based: This rating considers whether there’s evidence to support the diet’s health claims. We review scientific research to see whether a diet has been clinically proven by impartial research.
Overall Rating 4.08
Weight Change 5.0
Whole-Body Health 4.0
Healthy Eating Habits 4.5
Nutrition Quality 4.0
The Ornish Diet is a plan developed by Dr. Dean Ornish, a physician, researcher, and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California.
The plan is essentially a low-fat, lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet that focuses on plant-based ingredients like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes.
Other foods are also permitted on the plan, including soy products, egg whites, and limited amounts of non-fat dairy.
According to the diet’s creator, simply switching up your eating pattern can promote weight loss and reverse the progression of chronic conditions like prostate cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
It’s said to work by activating health-promoting genes while reversing aging at a cellular level.
The Ornish Diet is a low-fat, lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet that is said to increase weight loss and reverse disease progression.
Unlike many other fad diets, the Ornish Diet is straightforward and easy to follow.
There is no need to count calories or track your nutrient intake, and no foods are completely off-limits as part of the diet, aside from most animal products.
However, meat, fish, and poultry are not included in the diet, and high-fat foods like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils are permitted only in limited amounts.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and soy foods are key components of the Ornish Diet and should comprise the majority of your meals.
Egg whites are also permitted, and up to two daily servings of non-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt can be enjoyed as well.
Healthy fats should make up about 10% of your total daily calorie intake and mostly come from naturally occurring fats in whole foods like whole grains and legumes.
Three or fewer servings of foods like nuts and seeds can also be eaten per day. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the serving sizes are very small, and one serving should contain fewer than 3 grams of fat.
Also, caffeinated beverages, refined carbs, sugar, alcohol, and low-fat packaged foods should be limited as part of the diet.
In addition to making changes to your diet, it’s also recommended to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to optimize results.
The Ornish Diet involves eating mostly low-fat, plant-based foods and limiting animal products, refined carbs, high-fat foods, and processed ingredients.
The Ornish Diet may be associated with several health benefits.
May aid weight loss
The Ornish Diet emphasizes nutrient-dense ingredients like fruits, veggies, and plant-based proteins, making it an excellent option if you’re looking to lose weight.
According to one study in 20 people, following the Ornish Diet for 1 year resulted in an average weight loss of 7.5 pounds (3.3 kg), which was greater than other popular diets like Atkins, Weight Watchers, and the Zone Diet (
Similarly, another 1-year study found that 76 participants who followed the Ornish Diet lost an average of 5 pounds (2.2 kg) (
Furthermore, other studies show that switching to a vegetarian diet could aid weight loss.
In one study in 74 people with type 2 diabetes, following a vegetarian diet for 6 months was significantly more effective than a low-calorie diet at promoting fat loss (
Aids disease prevention
Promising research suggests that the Ornish Diet could help prevent chronic disease.
What’s more, one small study in 18 people compared the effects of three popular diets, including the Ornish Diet, over 4 weeks.
The Ornish Diet reduced levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease (
Flexible and easy to follow
Unlike other diet plans that require you to carefully count calories or track your nutrient intake, the Ornish Diet requires minimal effort and is relatively easy to follow.
According to the diet’s creator, aside from certain animal products, no foods are completely off-limits on the plan — though some ingredients should be limited.
Even certain prepackaged convenience items like veggie burgers or whole-grain cereals are permitted in moderation, provided they contain fewer than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Given that the diet is not overloaded with complicated rules and regulations, it’s easy to stick to in the long run.
The Ornish Diet may increase weight loss and aid disease prevention. It’s also more flexible and easier to follow than other diet plans.
Though the Ornish Diet is associated with several potential benefits, there are some downsides to consider.
For starters, it’s very low in healthy fats, with less than 10% of total daily calories coming from fat.
Most health experts and regulatory agencies recommend getting around 20–35% of your total daily calories from fat to help optimize health (
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that removing meat and certain animal products from your diet can increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies.
In fact, studies show that vegetarian diets tend to be lower in important nutrients like protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and zinc (
Monitoring your intake of these key vitamins and minerals and enjoying a variety of nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes can ensure that you’re able to meet your needs while following the Ornish Diet.
You may also opt to take a multivitamin, which can help fill any gaps in your diet to prevent a nutritional deficiency.
The Ornish Diet is very low in healthy fats and requires careful planning to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
The Ornish Diet is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet that encourages a variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Foods to eat
Here are some foods that you can enjoy as part of the Ornish Diet:
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, kiwi, grapefruit, berries, pomegranate, melons, pears, apricots
- Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, peppers, garlic, onions, spinach, zucchini
- Legumes: kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, lima beans, pinto beans
- Whole grains: quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, barley, farro, brown rice, oats
- Protein sources: tempeh, tofu, egg whites
- Herbs and spices: garlic, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cilantro, parsley, cinnamon, nutmeg
Foods to limit
The following foods are also permitted in limited amounts on the diet:
- Nuts and seeds (3 or fewer small servings per day): walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds
- Low-fat packaged foods: whole-grain cereals, whole-grain crackers, veggie burgers
- Caffeinated beverages: up to one cup of coffee or two cups of black tea/decaf coffee per day
- Dairy products (2 or fewer servings per day): non-fat yogurt, skim milk
- Fats: olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, butter, vegetable oil, canola oil, olives
- Refined carbs (2 or fewer servings per day): white pasta, crackers, biscuits, white bread, pancakes, flour tortillas, white rice, honey, agave, brown sugar, white sugar
- Alcohol (up to 1 serving per day): wine, beer, liquor
- Processed foods: high-fat convenience meals, baked goods, fast food, potato chips, pretzels
Foods to avoid
Here are some of the foods to avoid on the diet plan:
- Meat: beef, lamb, goat, veal
- Seafood: salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, sardines, shrimp, lobster
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck
- Egg yolks
Fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources are encouraged on the Ornish Diet. Meat, fish, and poultry are prohibited, while high-fat ingredients, refined carbs, and processed foods should be limited.
Here’s a sample 3-day menu for the Ornish Diet.
- Breakfast: tofu scramble with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers
- Lunch: brown rice with black beans and steamed broccoli
- Dinner: lentil veggie stew with roasted Brussels sprouts
- Breakfast: egg white omelet with mixed veggies
- Lunch: bell peppers stuffed with beans, bulgur, tomatoes, onions, kale, and spinach
- Dinner: chickpea curry with couscous and a side salad
- Breakfast: oatmeal with strawberries, blueberries, and cinnamon
- Lunch: zucchini noodles with pesto and cannellini bean meatballs
- Dinner: teriyaki tempeh with quinoa and stir-fried veggies
The menu above provides some meal ideas that can be included on the Ornish Diet.
The Ornish Diet is a low-fat, lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet that claims to offer substantial health benefits.
In addition to being flexible and easy to follow, some studies suggest that the Ornish Diet may help increase weight loss and protect against chronic disease.
However, it’s also very low in healthy fats and may lack certain vitamins and minerals, which can increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Thus, if you want to give the Ornish Diet a try, be sure to plan it carefully to avoid negative health effects.